American Oak: An alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine. Marked by strong vanilla, dill and cedar notes, it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It's less desirable, although used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. New American oak barrels can be purchased for about half the price of French oak barrels.
French Oak: The traditional wood for wine barrels, which supplies vanilla, cedar and sometimes butterscotch flavors. Used for red and white wines. Much more expensive than American oak, new French oak barrels can cost twice as much as new American barrels.
New Oak: Refers to the first time a barrel is used, when it has the greatest impact on wine. With successive uses, the wood imparts fewer flavors and tannins. Flavors associated with new oak include vanilla, cedar, toast and smoke. The wood tannins in newer barrels add firmness to the wine's structure. As with most components in wine, moderation and balance are key; new oak can be a positive or a negative influence, depending on whether it subtly enhances the wine or overpowers the fruit flavors.
Oak Chips: Instead of gaining complexity in expensive oak barrels during the aging process, some popularly-priced wines are aged with small pieces of wood to gain their oaky flavors. Also called beans.
Oaky: Describes the aroma or taste quality imparted to a wine by the oak barrels or casks in which it was aged. Can be either positive or negative. The terms toasty, vanilla, dill, cedary and smoky indicate the desirable qualities of oak; charred, burnt, green cedar, lumber and plywood describe its unpleasant side. See also American oak, French oak.
Vosges Oak: Tight-grained French oak from the Vosges Mountains in Alsace used to make wine barrels.